Moderators for the Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday failed to ask a single question about gun violence, despite the event’s proximity to the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The debate, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and The Nevada Independent, ran two hours and covered a spate of topics, including climate change, health care, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) now-infamous Mexico flub.
But the issue of gun safety went noticeably unaddressed by the moderators as the debate, held in the strip’s Paris Theater, unfolded less than four miles from the site of the 2017 Route 91 Harvest music festival massacre.
Some 58 people were killed and more than 400 others injured when a gunman opened fire on the country music festival from across the street in a hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Police never determined the shooter’s motive.
Robert Gaafar, a survivor of the Route 91 shooting, sat in the audience as a guest of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who made his debut on the Democratic debate stage on Wednesday and founded the nonprofit Everytown For Gun Safety in 2013.
“To be honest, I was very disappointed,” Gaafar told HuffPost on Thursday about the lack of gun safety questions. The debate marked his first return to Las Vegas since the shooting, and he expected gun violence to be a central part of the night.
“I was there with several other survivors of gun violence and ... they were all very disappointed,” he added. “It was the first gut reaction once it was over. Before even talking about how the candidates did, it was like, ‘I can’t believe there wasn’t a question about gun violence.’”
Gaafar said it’s possible the moderators ― NBC News’ Lester Holt, Chuck Todd and Hallie Jackson, Noticias Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc and The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston ― meant to include a question about guns but ran out of time with all of the candidates taking jabs at one another.
NBC News ― the parent company of MSNBC ― Noticias Telemundo and Ralston did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Karl Catarata, who survived the 2014 Walmart shooting in Las Vegas, also expressed dismay over the moderators’ glaring omission. Catarata, a staffer for Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.), also watched the debate live as a guest of former Vice President Joe Biden.
“As a gun violence survivor, I would’ve loved to hear more from our next nominee in their plans to honor lives lost from gun violence,” Catarata wrote.
Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg were the only two candidates to discuss gun violence during the debate, despite the absence of pointed questions on the topic.
“I’m running because so many people are being left behind,” Biden said in his closing statement. “I know what it’s like to be knocked down, but I know you have to get back up. We have to provide some safety and security for the American people.”
“We’re right here in Nevada, the site of the most significant mass murder in American history,” he continued. “Guns. Our kids are getting sent to school having to hide under their desks ... It’s immoral.”
But the few fleeting moments in which gun safety was raised were too little, too late for some viewers. And though all of the Democratic candidates are leagues above President Donald Trump when it comes to tackling gun violence, the issue should have been a focal point of the debate, said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.
“Viewers deserve to hear how every candidate on the stage would address this crisis from daily gun homicides and gun suicides that kill over 100 Americans every day to mass tragedies like what happened in Las Vegas less than three years ago,” Watts told HuffPost. “To not talk about that crisis is unacceptable.”
Watts said she imagines it was “very hurtful” to survivors of the Las Vegas massacre to have the issue all but ignored during the debate.
“This is a question that should be asked at every single debate,” she said. “This is a crisis of monumental proportions. And, you know, 100 Americans were killed yesterday. They will be killed today. And they will be killed tomorrow. To not address this crisis is media malpractice.”
Andrew Patrick, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, echoed Watts’ frustration.
“It just seems unbelievable that you’re in the city of the deadliest mass shooting in American history that happened in this president’s term, and it was not even brought up by the moderators,” Patrick said. “It’s just disappointing to see this not be treated like the life and death issue that it is.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Karl Catarata as a survivor of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. In fact, he survived a 2014 shooting at a Walmart in Las Vegas.